From Heartthrob to (Alleged) Harasser: the Downfall of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

As of March 9th, six women have come forward with sexual allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York Attorney General Letitia James announced to the public that an independent investigation is currently being overseen by her office on February 28th. On the same day, Cuomo gave the following statement regarding the allegations: “I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”

If it was only workplace “banter,” then why has Cuomo avoided public appearances for the last two weeks? Why is the Attorney General overseeing an independent investigation? Why has the New York State Assembly started an impeachment inquiry?

Cuomo has certainly been accomplishing more than just undercounting the elderly deaths in nursing homes by the thousands. It was James who questioned the death toll; only hours later, the New York Department of Health added several thousand more deaths to their tally. Instead of focusing on the health of constituents close to his own age (63), he probed into the romantic life of Charlotte Bennett, his 25-year-old executive assistant, and explained that “he was fine with anyone over 22;” he mentioned that “he wanted a girlfriend and was lonely.” 

As part of the 2018 Women’s Opportunity Agenda, sexual harassment training and certifications were made mandatory for New York State public servants to help protect women across workplaces, education, and family life. Given Cuomo’s previous history of traveling on the private jets of Jeffrey Epstein, it was crucial that the governor complete this training. Alongside allegations of sexual harassment, Bennett revealed that Cuomo’s office director, Stephanie Benton, completed the state’s mandatory sexual harassment training pretending to be Cuomo. Bennett said, “I was there. I heard Stephanie say, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this for you’ and making a joke about the fact that she was completing the training for him. And then I heard her at the end ask him to sign the certificate.” Cuomo undoubtedly needed the training, because after Bennett came forward, five other women said they experienced the same “banter,” otherwise known as harassment.

According to Lindsey Boylan, a former aide, the governor came onto her as she was leaving the office. He gave her a kiss on the lips, about which she wrote, “I was in shock, but I kept walking.” Boylan added to Cuomo’s workplace behavior by saying that the governor “made unflattering comments about the weight of female colleagues … [and] ridiculed them about their romantic relationships and significant others,” and “said the reasons that men get women were ‘money and power.’”

Ana Liss, another former aide, told the Wall Street Journal that the governor questioned her previous romantic relationships. He “asked her if she had a boyfriend, called her sweetheart, touched her on her lower back at a reception and once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk.” Liss waved off the comments for a while until the workplace banter reduced her from an educated professional to “just a skirt.” 

Karen Hinton, a former consultant for the state, relayed a night in which she was called up to the governor’s hotel room. About the encounter, she said, “He started asking me personal questions. I was uncomfortable with that conversation. So I stood up to leave and he walked across from his couch and embraced me intimately. It was not just a hug. It was an intimate embrace. I pulled away. He brought me back. I pulled away again, and I said, ‘Look I need some sleep, I am going.’” Anna Ruch, who is unaffiliated with the New York government, met the governor at a wedding where he initially put his hand on her lower back, which she removed. He aggravated the situation by grabbing her face and telling her that he wanted to kiss her. Finally, on March 9th, The Times Union reported that the governor groped an Executive Chamber employee on her chest at his official residence. 

Currently, over 55 state legislators and Mayor Bill de Blasio have asked Cuomo to step down. The speaker of the New York State Assembly has initiated the impeachment investigation, given that the nursing home coverup and repeated sexual harassment allegations have proved that Cuomo is unfit to serve the state. Cuomo has been adamant that the full investigation will have to be completed prior to any thoughts of resignation. His confidence is alarming. The longest-serving member of the New York State Assembly described the situation: “Multiple and growing credible allegations of sexual harassment … are extremely disturbing and make it clear that Governor Cuomo is no longer the right governor for New York.” Nevertheless, there is a chance that his behavior will be brushed off as harmless by the independent investigation. Will Andrew Cuomo be able to play it off the same way he did when his name was found in convicted pedophile Epstein’s travel logbook? 

Born to a lawyer father and a women’s rights activist mother, the Cuomo children were served the American dynasty dream on a silver platter. Mario Cuomo, governor of New York from ’83-’94, passed on his passion for politics to Andrew, who went on to become Attorney General for the State of New York, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton, and Governor of New York State since 2011. Serving as his father’s campaign manager after graduating from law school as well as marrying into the Kennedy family gave Cuomo enough connections to launch his political career. 

During the massive COVID-19 outbreak in New York, Governor Cuomo was in his prime, holding press conferences and acting goofy on CNN with his brother, Chris Cuomo. Even though his own state had the highest hospitalization rates in the country, the governor published the book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” about his hardships and triumphs during those several months.  Following his conferences, the NY Post, Vogue, and Huffington Post published articles naming the governor a heartthrob and bachelor after the governor nicknamed himself “The Love Gov” by saying, “I’ve always been a soft guy. I am the love gov. I’m a cool dude in a loose mood, you know that.”

The precedent set by his resignation would establish the importance of persons in authority not taking advantage of their power. Sexual harassment is often dismissed or downplayed. People often try to write it off as “just being friendly,” “not a big deal,” or “just a lonely, harmless old man.” But this is a powerful reminder that the workplace environment shouldn’t consist of any touching besides handshakes and that appropriate boundaries need to be firmly in place, no matter how powerful the boss is or how they attempt to manipulate their optics in their favor.

In the words of Governor Andrew Cuomo, “Let it go, just go with the flow, baby. You know. You can’t control anything, so don’t even try.” You should have been controlling your words and wandering hands. The act is up, Cuomo: you’re just creepy now. 

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